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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

10/9: Day Trip from Corfu to Peaceful Paleokratiska

As I mentioned in my previous post, our flight tomorrow evening from Corfu to Athens had been cancelled so yesterday we had ended up buying bus and ferry tickets for tomorrow afternoon instead. It would be a far longer and much more expensive journey but we had no option. When we awoke this morning and checkedthe airline’s website, we discovered that the anticipated air traffic controllers’ strike had been called off and thus our flight was back on. Thank goodness we had never been able to get through to Olympic Airways Customer Service Center to request a refund despite much time wasted on hold! 

A photo of the bus stop nearest our apartment but there was no sign indicating a stop; that was the norm from what we had seen in Corfu and was terribly frustrating for tourists trying to navigate the city and island using public transportation. 
Hotel Frini: The abandoned hotel that was the unmarked bus stop when coming from town that, at night, looked very spooky indeed. There was also very limited bus service not only to and from the small towns near Corfu Town itself on Sundays but also to the towns in other parts of the island. 
Since we were now back to having two full days left on the island because of the cancelled strike, our best option was to visit today the town of Paleokastriska on the western side of Corfu as that fit in best with the bus schedule. Since we had well over an hour to wait for the ongoing bus once we got to town, we had plenty of time to get a partial refund for the Athens-bound bus and ferry ticket at least so all was not wasted. 

Paleokastriska was about an hour’s from Corfu Town along some narrow roads but the views were stunning. The very green hills ended with crystal blue waters of the sea. Once we arrived in the central square, we could hear immediately the service being held in the tiny Greek Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas right by the harbor. 
I went over there immediately while Steven checked out boat tours. There were people spilling out of the door as the church was so packed with the faithful on the Sunday morning.
Two minutes later, Steven ran to get me saying a boat was leaving in a few minutes for a tour of three caves. What a gorgeous day to be out on a boat seeing the caves near the beach. 

Blue Eye Cave was the first cave we stopped at. The boatman threw out bits of bread that the fish eagerly jumped up to eat.

The grotto had gorgeous greenish-blue water on the west side of Corfu. 

St. Nicholas Cave:

Diane: I wonder if you and your husband honeymooned at this resort overlooking the bay

There were very few people here even though the temperature was probably in the high 70s or low 80s and the sun was shining.

Nausika Cave:

The combination of crystal-blue water, rocky cliffs, bright blue skies, interesting caves and peaceful waters made for a lovely time on the water.
Once our boat tour was over, we walked back over to the now empty Church of St. Nicholas just feet from the harbor.

The miniscule interior of the church was exquisite. 

Nina: Thought of you when I saw this sign as it was the same one in the Boulder bar/restaurant you took us to before the CU football game a while back.
We began climbing the steep hill above the church to the hilltop monastery, the reason many tourists visit Paleokratiska. The very pretty views on the ascent made the climb that much easier to take.

Rovina Beach was where we had taken the boat tour from just a bit earlier.

Overlooking the rugged west coast and perched at the very top of the mountain, was the Monastery of Paleokastritsa. Although founded during the 13th century, the present, pastel-hued monastery was rebuilt after a fire some 500 years later. The monastery was built on two levels. The church was on the upper level and so were the bell tower and the wishing well in the center of the inner courtyard. 

At the entrance an inspirational quote from the Bible said, "Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the Lord on high is mighty.” A yellow flag with an eagle on it welcomed us to the monastery. I wonder what the significance is of that flag.

As we entered the gates, there was a feeling of peace and serenity, once we stopped to catch our breath of course after the climb! Contributing to that aura of tranquility were the tapes of religious music being played softly over the loudspeaker.

Its gilded chapel was outstanding with icons going back centuries. Tawnya: I was thinking of you as I lit a candle in the church.

There were even more icons in a little museum occupying the former olive press, including the disarticulated skeleton of a whale, while potted plants plus cascading bougainvillea filled the courtyard and the arcaded passageways around it. 

At the lower level we found the monastery’s old olive oil mill, which became a souvenir shop selling extra virgin olive oil, soap, wine and candies produced by the half-dozen monks that still live here.

Mosaics were set in alcoves in between the arches: 

We strolled through the manicured gardens amassed with beautiful trumpet flowers and foliage and cats lazing around looking very content with the care given to them by the priests. Thanks for reminding me of the name of the flowers, Lil Red!

From the monastery, we hiked over to the neighboring hill where we saw another unusual looking cross. It looked more like a radio antenna than any cross I had previously seen. 
Even so, it was an extraordinary place and we enjoyed every moment we spent atop the bluff admiring the stupendous views, taking in the sounds of waves crashing against the rocks below and the wind whistling through the trees. 

A walk around the grounds showed us lovely views of some of the coves around Paleokastr√≠tsa.

After enjoying lunch by a restaurant right on Alippa Beach, we sat in beach chairs for a couple of hours reading and thanking our lucky stars that we had been able to enjoy Paleokastriska for a full day rather than just a few hours if we had only been able to come for a half day tomorrow.

Our view while eating lunch:

The local shop had packages of olives stuffed with almonds, chili, oregano and other spices – too bad they just seemed too heavy to either mail home or lug in our bags for the next couple of months as I am sure they would have made perfect gifts for some people.

Paleokratiska, including its monastery, has to be one of the most beautiful places in Corfu. We were so blessed to have been able to see it in autumn. 

Posted from Giza on October 18th, 2016.

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